COVER

SUDDEN, INEXPLICABLE AND BRUTAL ERUPTIONS OF VIOLENCE

May 22 1989
COVER

SUDDEN, INEXPLICABLE AND BRUTAL ERUPTIONS OF VIOLENCE

May 22 1989

SUDDEN, INEXPLICABLE AND BRUTAL ERUPTIONS OF VIOLENCE

COVER

recruit. He moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong with his family in 1985, enrolled in a special high-school course to learn English, but had difficulty adjusting to life in Vancouver. According to a court psychiatrist’s report, Yeung was befriended by gang members who provided him with money, status and a group of peers who spoke his language—at a time when he was feeling vulnerable and inadequate. Eventually, the gang members demanded repayment. At first, that involved Yeung in petty crimes.

Later, according to the psychiatrist’s report, he was ordered to shoot a member of a rival gang to avenge an injury suffered by one of his gang’s leaders. On Jan. 23,1987, he walked into the Golden Princess movie theatre. A gang member handed him a .38calibre revolver, then left. In front of about 400 witnesses,

Yeung shot 14-year-old Tony Hong in the head. Hong survived but lost an eye. Yeung was sent to jail, where he is currently serving an eightyear sentence for attempted murder.

Shock: Similar patterns of Asian gang activity show up in other western Canadian cities. Although there are some white skinhead gangs in Calgary, most of the youth gangs in that city are made up of young Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian immigrants. Often, gang membership provides a refuge for

Asian youngsters suffering from cultural shock. Typically, 15-year-old Lam arrived in Calgary with his parents in 1982 after fleeing his native Vietnam and spending two years in a Malaysian refugee camp.

Lam has vivid memories of his first days in a Calgary school. “I was scared of all the kids because they were so much bigger,” he recalled. “I could not understand anything they said. The other kids teased me. I felt angry and stupid.” Lam said that his parents were not

able to help because “they were working to buy a house and stuff. They both worked as cleaners at night and studied or worked during the day. They were never home.” Finally, in the depths of frustration, Lam simply dropped out of school and joined a gang.

Battles: Youth gangs have also begun to create problems in Winnipeg, where battles have broken out between native people and Asian youths. “Lots of these young Asians have had a disruptive history,” said Ying Hoh, a Taiwanese-born, University of Manitoba-edu-

cated psychologist. “They are still reacting in terms of survival instead of a normal adaptation to life here. They are hindered by psychological difficulties arising from the trauma they endured coming here, the language, the awareness of being a minority.”

DEATH AMONG THE INNOCENT

Ramon Rios became another Los Angeles gang statistic last month. The 17-year-old was riding on a bus when two youths confronted him. One pulled a revolver from his waistband and shot and killed Rios in front of 15 clearly terrified passengers. Therea son: Rios was wearing a blue Dallas Cow boys cap-and blue is the color worn by menib~rs of the Crips, one of Los Angeles's black youth gangs. Rios's assailatits were another black gang, Bloods, who wear red andwho are sworn enemies of the Crips. Rios was not a gang member, but he was an innocEnt victim of deEdly gang warfare. Every.Monday, the city's newspapers pub'

lish a weekend body count—a gang member shot to death at a corner, or a house sprayed with bullets. Said deputy Los Angeles attorney Bruce Copien: “People don’t sit in their front living rooms because they are afraid.”

The statistics show that the concenit :01 Angelénos are well-foundet / E~~ig-relatM. murders in tl city increased by~ 25 per cent last: year to 257, and half of the fatalities involved unprovoked gang killings of nonmem hers. Police estimateS put gang membership hi all of Los Angeles County at 70,000, ap~ead among 600 gangs. Still, police and community officials expressed more concern about the gàng& changed behavior. `tdividuals killing more than. one person seem co~rthonpiace now," said Michael Genelin, head deputy dis ttict attorney. Gangs are not new to Los Angeles. Pot generations, gangsof Spanish-speaking youths

have defended their turf from interlopers. Black gangs began to flourish during the early 1970s, and Asian gangs became much more evident about three years ago. Now, violence associated with black gangs is an! ' aith the niega! diug trade while the Asian gangs are primarily involved in extortion. Still, a newly formed organization, called MAGIC—Mothers Against Gangs in Our Community—is

)e Kramer, head of the Los Angeles police department’s gang unit: “I see small clusters of people starting to stiffen their backs and say we are going to take back our communities.” Sadly, such moves come too late for Ramon Rios and other gang-war casualties.

ANNE GREGOR in Los Angeles

ANNE GREGOR

ANNE GREGOR

In Toronto, a wide variety of youth gangs organized along both racial and ideological lines have begun to disturb life in the city. For many Torontonians, the most unsettling gang activity is the phenomenon known as swarming. “A swarming can involve anywhere from six to 60 kids,” explained Sgt. McLean. “A kid will see something he likes—a pair of shoes, a watch, a coat. He’ll walk up to a person and pick an argument. While he’s arguing with the victim, the other kids will surround them. If the individual gives them the watch, he won’t be harmed. But if he resists, the kids attack.” He added, “They do it for the thrill.”

Perplexing: At the same time, experts say that the youth gangs in affluent Toronto are the most perplexing in the country—and in some cases the most difficult to explain in terms of social and economic conditions. As in other parts of Canada, many Toronto gangs are organized along ethnic lines. Although the Metropolitan Toronto police department is officially reluctant to classify lawbreakers by ethnic origin, some officers privately claim that as much as 80 per cent of | youth gang violence in the o city is perpetrated by young | members of the city’s immi= grant black community.

At the same time, police officers note that gang members often come from widely varying racial, social and economic backgrounds. Police have found youngsters from the city’s most affluent and most impoverished neighborhoods in the same gang. As well, there are predominantly white gangs, mainly black gangs and more racially mixed gangs. Police say that some gangs appear to be highly structured, while others form in one night for the purpose of carrying out a single criminal act and then immediately disband.

Experts are divided over just what prompts middle-class youngsters to seek out the thrills and risks of gang membership. According to Greg McClare, chief social worker for the Toronto Board of Education, gang membership appears to be “related to power and dominance.” For his part, Grant Lowrey, director of Central Toronto Youth Services, an organization that helps young people living on the streets, said that it is “a comment on our consumer society when kids are ripping each other off for luxury items such as $300 leather jackets and $125 running shoes.” According to Tucker, gang membership reflects a disintegration of traditional family values. “There is not a whole lot for our kids to get attached to,” said Tucker. Added Dr. Stanley Kutcher, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital who specializes in the problems of adolescence: “We’re reaping the bad harvest of 1960sand

1970s-style parenting when kids were told to do their own thing.”

In Montreal, much of the city’s most serious gang activity originates in the Haitian community, which—with 50,000 members—ranks as one of the largest in North America. Montreal Urban Community police have identified at least half a dozen Haitian street gangs. Last fall, Montreal police broke up a Haitian youth gang whose 10 members committed thefts and assaults. All of them had a bright streak of

yellow in their hair. They ranged from 14 to 19 years old, and most of them lived in a single, squalid apartment. “When we called their parents, they said they did not want to take them back home,” reported Const. Claude Ladouceur, a youth officer. “They could no longer control the kids.”

Knifed: Still, Haitian youths have no monopoly on violence in the Montreal area. Early this year, doctors had to perform microsurgery to repair the severed leg nerves of a 16-year-old student who had been knifed in a gang brawl during a high-school dance in suburban Longueuil. Police blamed the incident on a group of youths known as Les Fresh. Not strictly a gang, Les Fresh represents a style that is characterized by a fondness for black rap music—in which lyrics are spoken over a rhythmic musical accompaniment—and a certain “look” consisting of sweat pants, Reebok running shoes and National Football League jackets. Police officers say that jailing Les Fresh’s leaders is one of the Montreal force’s top priorities.

While gang violence assumes many faces across the country, Canadian police are almost unanimous in declaring that the controversial 1984 Young Offenders Act is making it difficult for them to control the problem. Police spokes-

men from Vancouver to Montreal agreed that the act—which provides special procedures, protections and sentences for offenders under the age of 18—is being exploited by youths who view it as a licence to break the law and create havoc. “These kids are well aware of what the Young Offenders Act will allow them to get away with,” Toronto police Const. Gordon Rasbach told a gathering of concerned parents at a high school last week.

There is considerable evidence to support

the widely held opinion that young offenders are deliberately taking advantage of the law. Vancouver’s Yeung told a court-appointed psychiatrist that he had been told—erroneously— that if convicted of shooting a rival gang member, he would receive only a light sentence because he was a juvenile at the time. In Toronto, an 18-year-old technical school student told Maclean ’s that he had given up his membership in the Rude Boys gang because he was no longer a minor. “I’m out of that stuff now,” he said. “I just turned 18.”

Power: The same student described how and why he had taken part in gang violence. “We used to meet downtown,” he recalled. “There was no leader. We all knew each other. We used to go out and cause trouble—do property damage and break into stores. When you’re in a gang of 60 to 80 people, you get real hiked up. It’s a real power trip.” If the experts are right, that kind of violent and dangerous power trip may also be the price that Canadians must now pay for society’s neglect of its younger members in the past.

BARRY CAME with LAURIE GILLIES in Vancouver, JOHN HOWSE in Calgary,

PAUL KAIHLA and BARBARA WICKENS in Toronto and DAN BURKE in Montreal

BARRY CAME